Selfies from Space: Falling in Love with Planet Earth

Why going up there helps us care about down here

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In This Issue

  • Selfies from Space: Falling in Love with Planet Earth

  • Convincing People to Prepare for Climate Change: What NOT To Do (Round 2)

Selfies from Space: Falling in Love with Planet Earth

Understanding and responding to climate change on Earth and trying to make a more sustainable planet isn't just about what we do on the ground.

Space exploration missions and technology development plays a key role. In fact, it has for decades, and likely always will.

This week's issue will set the groundwork for future topics, where we show how data from space can be used to build software solutions.

Earth Rise

Let's start with what has been called the "most influential environmental photograph" ever taken - a photo of Earth taken by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968 while he was standing on the Moon.

NASA/Bill Anders

The jewel-like appearance of our planet above the desolate lunar surface stands out amongst the pitch-black backdrop of the sky. We can see no borders, no signs of conflict. The fragility of the planet, our only source of life, was crystal clear.

We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.

Apollo Astronaut Bill Anders

Within two years, the first Earth Day was celebrated.

The Overview Effect

Is it possible for humans to hover in space, looking down on the planet, and not develop a new care and awareness for it? Not every space voyager has reported a change in consciousness...but so many have there's a term for this new state of mind: "the Overview Effect".

This was coined by Frank White in his book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution (Houghton-Mifflin, 1987; AIAA, 1998).

The thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don't know. I don't know to this day. I had a feeling it's tiny, it's shiny, it's beautiful, it's home, and it's fragile.

Michael Collins, Apollo 11

(Source: Chang, Kenneth (2019-07-16). "For Apollo 11 He Wasn't on the Moon. But His Coffee Was Warm". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2019-07-17. Retrieved 2019-07-17.)

So many astronauts, including Michael Collins, Rusty Schweikart, Edgar Mitchel, Scott Kell, Sally Ride, Chris Hadfield, and (most recently) William Shatner have all reported experiencing it. That list above is a partial one but includes decades worth of experiences in men and women, from different nations, most of them professional astronauts and some of them space tourists.

Since encountering this transformative effect, many of these individuals have gone on to share their powerful experiences. They act as environmental ambassadors and storytellers, helping explain the importance of environmental preservation to audiences back on Earth.

Pale Blue Dot

As we can see, space lets us observe, understand, and cherish the "only home we've ever known".

So it is only fitting that we wrap up with the most famous, and remotest, remote sensing image of our beautiful planet: the Pale Blue Dot (bottom right corner).

We end with words of Carl Sagan,whose book "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space" was inspired by this astonishing photo thatVoyager 1 spacecraft took (at his own request) in 1990.

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives...This distant image of our tiny world...underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

— Carl Sagan, "Pale Blue Dot", 1994. (Copyright © 1994 by Carl Sagan, Copyright © 2006 by Democritus Properties, LLC.)

What do you think - can we truly care about and protect our planet without data from space? Let us know! 

Convincing People to Prepare for Climate Change: What NOT To Do (Round 2)

In a previous issue we shared the surprising results of survey research conducted by Utah Valley University students. This research involved a survey of Canadian attitudes to climate change, taken between November to December 2019.

It seems to indicate that if we ask people to take positive action for climate change, they are likely to feel dread and despair, and feel less able to act. Whereas if we ask people to act for local environmental conservation, they may feel much more positive, and able to take positive action.This was just before Canada was hit by the global pandemic and also faced a year of climate disasters. We are curious to see if attitudes have changed (and if so, how).

We will once again be working with Utah Valley University to rerun that survey, as close to the original parameters as possible. And, we will determine whether there are any differences in attitudes, and if so what that might mean.

We're thrilled to work with UVU students again and cannot wait to see the results with you (probably early in the new year).

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